Intro: ‘Phir Ek Baar, Cameron Sarkar’ slogan just like David Cameron Indian counterpart Narendra Modi’s successful poll mantra and the votes of Indian origin voters decisively tilted the election in favour of Conservatives.
The recently concluded general elections in the United Kingdom (UK) were significant, not only for that country but also for India. This is because these elections saw unprecedented participation from the British Indian Community with over 50 candidates of Indian origin contesting. Those contesting represented both the mainstream political parties. Notable among those who contested from the ruling Conservative Party included former junior Treasury Minister Priti Patel and sitting MP’s from Wolverhampton South West and North West Cambridgeshire, Paul Uppal and Shailesh Lakshman Vara. From the opposition Labour Party, notable candidates included the brother-sister duo of Leicester East MP Keith Vazand Walsall South MP Valerie Vaz, Ealing and Southall MP Virendra Sharma. Eventually, 10 MP’s of Indian origin were elected to the, House of Commons, the lower house of the British Parliament, with Priti Patel becoming the first woman of Indian origin to become a member of the British Cabinet after being given the Employment portfolio in the newly re-elected Conservative majority
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s rehashing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s campaign slogan “Abki Baar Modi Sarkar” into “Phir Ek Baar Cameron Sarkar” reflected the general mood of the people in the UK with the Conservative Party bucking anti-incumbency and returning to power with a full majority of 331 seats in the 650 member House of Commons, improving from its earlier tally of 306 seats, whilst the opposition Labour Party went down from 256 seats in the last general elections to a present tally of 232.
The UK is geographically and politically divided into 4 regions, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These elections were marked by the rise of nationalist aspirations in all these regions and more so in Scotland, where the nationalist Scottish National Party won an impressive 56 out of the 59 seats. Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party retained a symbolic foothold winning 1 seat whilst the Labour Party was devastated retaining only 1 seat as opposed to the 41 they had held earlier. Cameron’s erstwhile coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, led by former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also suffered heavy losses going from an impressive 11 seats to just 1.
In England, which with 533 seats has a lion’s share of the seats in the Commons the Conservatives significantly improved from their earlier tally of 296 seats winning 319. Labour also improved on its earlier tally of 191 winning 206. The Liberal Democarats who came down to just 6 seats from the earlier 43 suffered the biggest swing away from any party. The ultra right nationalist UK Independence Party, whilst significantly improving its vote share to over 14 per cent, from the earlier 3.5 could win only 1 seat and the Green party retained the remaining 1 seat. In Wales, of the total 40 seats the region has in the House of Commons, the Conservatives improved their tally to 11 from the previous 8, whilst Labour were down 1 seat at 25, the Liberal Democrats managed to win only 1 seat, down from the previous 3, whilst the Welsh nationalist Plaid Cymru Party retained 3 seats.
In Northern Ireland, none of the major parties could make a dent with all 18 seats being held by regional political parties with the unionist (favouring union with the UK), Democratic Unionist Party winning 8 seats and the Nationalist Sinn Fein winning 5 seats, with the remaining seats going to smaller regional parties.
The new government is seeking to continue to pursue its sound economic agenda, which has seen the UK bring down unemployment significantly in the last 5 years and emerge as amongst the best performing economies in Europe in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis. There is also skepticism with the Prime Minister promising a referendum in 2017 that could see the UK exit the European Union (EU) in 2017. There have also been concerns about immigration with the UK no longer extending a post study work visa to students, and calls to curb the entry of an increasing number of immigrants from the EU countries, particularly those in Eastern Europe, who many claim put a burden on the exchequer by claiming extensive health and employment benefits. The thumping win of the Scottish Nationalists has also raised concerns that moves to separate from the UK there will once again gain traction after they recently lost a referendum which sought to do so by a narrow margin.
However, according to Manoj Ladwa, a prominent member of Indian origin of the opposition Labour Party and the founder and Chief Executive of India centric consultancy, MLS Chase, there exists a consensus within Britain across the political spectrum for the need to further engage with and strengthen ties with India. The consensus has also translated into the greater participation of the British Indian community in these elections, which according to Mr Ladwa, was traditionally only confined to fundraising activities. Now, he says, Indians are participating more and more in door-to-door campaigns and grassroots contact.
Another aspect of Indian engagement is the fact that not only can over 1 million NRI’s and Persons of Indian origin but also Indian Citizens, including students, resident in the UK can vote in the general elections by virtue of being citizens of a commonwealth country. The electoral impact of this is huge because over 900,000 commonwealth citizens are resident in the UK of which more than 250,000 are Indian Citizens. As a student, currently resident in the UK I can testify that genuine efforts are made, with contact through email and letters to enroll all commonwealth citizens on to voters lists and encourage them to vote, which is a most encouraging trend in the British political system. Recent years have also seen the formation of various lobby groups that lobby for Indian interests in the UK Parliament; notable among these is the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Hindus. This All Party Parliamentary Group brings together a number of MP’s of both the House of Commons and Lords to lobby for the interests of and enhance the political engagement for the British Hindu community.
There is a rising trend of political engagement with ethnic minorities with 38 MP’s being elected from such communities representing 6 per cent of the total strength of the House of Commons, a number greater than has been the case ever before. The growing realisation of India’s rising economic might and the general affluence, high education levels and rising political awareness of the Indian community in Britain can only mean that economic, social and political ties between the two countries will continue to remain on the upswing.
Saurabh Chaudhary (The writer is currently studying law at Queen Mary University of London)